Tomko, Gardner Moves Prove Yankees Are Playing Smart

The Yankees won a lot of games during the Joe Torre era. When you win a lot of games, you tend to default to the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” strategy for roster building. The Yankees happened to win with guys like Luis Sojo, Billy Traber, Enrique Wilson, Ruben Sierra, and Joe Torre. I could name more Torre-era mistakes, but that’s not important. It took a new manager and a loosing season for the Yankees to break old conventions and establish a smarter strategy.

The Yankees do not need a long reliever. They have five healthy starting pitchers and seven versatile relief pitchers. None of their relief pitchers are Mike Myers types – one-out guys who will put a burden on others around them. There is no reason to believe that some combination of Coke, Albaladejo, and Ramirez can’t put together 3-4 innings of relief work when a starter gets blown out in the 3rd inning.

Tomko was very tempting. His spring training performance was extraordinary. His 1.17 ERA over 15 1/3 innings with 12 strikeouts against 2 walks was as good as you could ask for him to pitch. The Yankees however looked at his greater body of work –  a 4.68 ERA over 1741 major league innings, and an ERA close to 6.00 over the past two years – and realized that Tomko would be a liability in the bullpen. There is no reason for a team that is sending Mark Melancon, David Robertson, Dan Giese, Alfredo Aceves, and Phil Hughes to the minors to give a spot to a guy who will almost surely pitch below-average innings during his tenure with the Yankees.

Brett Gardner is another great example of a smart, heartless move by the Yankees. Melky Cabrera had a very good spring. He hit almost as well as Gardner, and much better in the latter half of March. He is out of options. He is an established major league player with strong ties to the team. He also plays much worse defense than Gardner and pulled off just a .301 OBP last season. Gardner is clearly the right choice, and would have been the right choice even he didn’t hit like Lou Gehrig in the grapefruit league.

The Yankees kept Joba in the rotation. They held on to Hughes and Kennedy. They held off on Johan Santana and then went out and got C.C. Sabathia. They were patient after Alex Rodriguez’s injury and went with their replacement player. Time and again, the Yankees have made the tougher decision in terms of politics, publicity, and tradition while improving their roster. The team has been outsmarted by Theo Epstein and the Red Sox management for years, but they seem to be turning it around.

The last decision, between Ramiro Pena and Angel Berroa, is not nearly as clear. I’m not sure who the player to add to the roster is. We’ve had a healthy debate here. We’ll see what the Yankees pick.

About EJ Fagan

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

12 thoughts on “Tomko, Gardner Moves Prove Yankees Are Playing Smart

  1. Plus can’t they just do what they did last year, which is if for some reason they stretch out Albaledjo for a game, they can send him down and call up Tomko? Tomko would probably have to clear waivers if he was then sent back down, but it’s still an option.

    • I think this was Tomko’s shot. They are not going to DFA someone to get him on the roster for just a few games. They will go with Aceves.

  2. While I am not sure I agree on Tomko, I definitely see your overall point. I think that Tomko might have given you league average innings as a long man, and I am not sure that we can just say that you dont need one. That is what the Yankees did last year, and it burned out Ohlie and got Albie hurt. That being said, as the team stands right now you are probably right, a long man should not be necessary.

  3. Don’t bet on ST or Sept. call-ups…even if we actually do. But, in this case, I think you are right in assessing the ability of Tomko. Granted, he could be a reincarnation of Small (was that his name?) and go with a 1.25 era., all year for us but conversely, he may give them a 6.50 era., also.
    A little disappointed that Robertson didn’t make it this year but, we all know there will be pitchers going down for any number of reasons…he’ll be back.

    • You never find a diamond in the rough if you never give them a shot. If Spring Training is meaningless, then all jobs should be set prior to it. How do you find AAron Small if you dont have him make the team every so often?

        • No, of course not, but we also should not just dismiss spring stats as meaningless. We shouldnt sign veteran pitchers to try and win a spot ever if we do not trust any of their performance. Why bring Tomko to camp if he cant do anything to win a job? And I’m not saying it was the wrong move because Tomko is awesome, I just believe in carrying a long reliever.

          • I don’t know. I was all gung ho for Scott Patterson last year after his stellar Spring, but it turned out that it was the correct move. I think Joe likes having extra situational relievers to mix and match against hitters when possible. The beginning of the season is the perfect time to go with no long man b/c of the days off and because everyone is fresh right now. Once the 5th guy is pitching every turn and the relievers start to get overworked, he can summon up a Giese type for that role.

  4. So I guess the nonsense that Gardner started fast because the pitchers were only throwing fastballs the first 2-3 weeks can now officially be declared nonsense.
    He’s actually raised his B.A. since that article was written.
    He should bat lead off.

  5. It’s interesting. I can see the point because both Coke and Alby can give the team two innings if need be, but what about those back to back games that are bound to happen. The bullpen could easily get warned down without a guy who could give 3-4 innings. Chances are if you have to go to your bullpen for a guy to give 3-4 innings probably going to lose the game anyways, might as well let him give only league average innings.

    I agree with sending Tomko down mainly because I didn’t see anyone else worth taking off the 40 man roster at the moment. Geise is most likely going to be taken off shortly, but for a utility infielder.

    • Well, the cool thing about the back end of the Yankee bullpen is that they can be optioned down easily. Say the Yankees have 2 or 3 exhausting bullpen days in a row, or a double header or something. Edwar or Coke or Alba can be sent down in favor of David Robertson or Alfredo or Giese at any time. They don’t lose a whole lot by sending them down for two weeks.